Mining in the Northern Flinders Ranges Pt 4.

Mining in the Northern Flinders Ranges
Part four.

Although the mania for copper mining was finished, new companies were still being formed to mine promising deposits in the north during the late 1880s. The Callana Copper Mine Ltd. with a capital of $3,200 and the Euchre Pack Syndicate with a capital of $2,560 were both incorporated to start mining in 1888. During the same year the Parabarana Copper Mining Company Ltd. and the Frome Copper Mining Syndicate were also established to mine in the Northern Flinders Ranges.

The late 1880s also saw a gradual increase in the price of copper. By December 1890 London quoted $110 per ton. Although mining in Australia during this time was still of 'fundamental importance', this could not really be said to apply to the Northern Flinders Ranges. With only about fifteen mines in production it was rather quiet there on the many copper, silver and goldfields, except at such isolated places as Angepena and Worturpa where some hopeful diggers were still panning for gold.

G.W. Goyder also was hopeful. As Surveyor-General he reminded all the lessees of mineral lands that they were still required to declare any profits made from their leases. Unfortunately not too many mines were making a profit at that time, in the Northern Flinders Ranges, nor in other parts of South Australia. One of the reasons was that the nature in which many mining enterprises had been conducted in the early stages had not really been in the best interest of their success. Except in a few notable instances mining has been carried on ineffectively. Sometimes it was with a little enthusiasm, followed by a depression proportioned to the extravagance of large expectations. Never was there the steady perseverance as might reasonably have been expected in regard to an industry calculated to win great wealth and to support a large mining population.

Maybe it was the mineral lease and the many conditions it contained that brought about this kind of attitude and behaviour. When a small company took out a lease, instant success was almost a necessity, as total costs to fulfil the conditions set out in the lease were very high. For instance, whatever the price of the lease, a rent of 10 cent per acre had to be paid at the fall of the hammer. As most mineral leases were still of eighty acres, this meant an amount of $8 over and above the purchasing price. On top of this came a fee of $3 for the preparation and registration of the lease in the buyer's name. When this was completed the lessee had to pay all the rates and taxes due or becoming due on the land from the date of being issued with the lease.

On an eighty-acre lease the lessee was further required to expend $480 per annum working the mine or employ four miners. If any profit was made, two and a half per cent of it had to be paid to the Treasury in Adelaide. If any of these requirements, or the many others, were not complied with, the lease was liable for forfeiture. Needless to say that the cost of starting a mine, even a small one, had become prohibitive for the independent and single miner. Companies with large financial resources were the only ones which could afford the risks involved in opening up a newly discovered deposit. One result of this was that many experienced prospectors and miners left for the 'Golden West'. Slowly but surely, mining news of the Northern Flinders Ranges was disappearing from the daily papers to be replaced with that of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie.

At the turn of the century mining prospects in South Australia began to improve once again. Rich iron ore from the Middleback Ranges, laid the foundations for Australia's heavy industry. Old mines, like the Sliding Rock, Warra Warra and Lorna Doone copper mines in the Northern Flinders Ranges, were re-opened and new mines including Fieldler's Claims and the Barilla mine near Mount Lyndhurst Station were started. The close of 1899 saw forty-eight copper mines being worked in the Northern Flinders Ranges and another sixty-eight in other parts of South Australia. With the opening of the twentieth century prospects for the north looked much better. Even the government showed more than a passing interest.

Early in 1900 it had finally decided to be involved with the building of smelting works, for the northern mines, at Port Augusta. During March of that year it advertised for a manager who would have to be 'competent to supervise the erection of the works and run the same when erected'. Two years later the newly formed Tasmanian Copper Company bought the Blinman mine. Within a very short time it had added another thirty-five mines, including the Sliding Rock copper mine, and the Leigh's Creek coal mine to its organization.

Soon mining in the Northern Flinders Ranges again provided an income for hundreds of men and their families. In 1907, the Blinman mine provided work for four hundred of them, while at Sliding Rock about fifty men had found employment. Early that year it was reported that 'the enterprise of the Tasmanian Copper Company has had a most invigorating influence on the mineral outlook in the far North'. New companies were still being formed in South Australia, in other states and even in England to mine the deposits of the Northern Flinders Ranges.

Early in 1907 it was reported from Copley that 'miners are constantly arriving by every coach'. They looked for employment in mines from the Blinman to beyond Hergott Springs. As the smelters at Port Augusta had not yet eventuated, the need for them was once again pointed out. This time the most preferred site seemed to be at Copley, rather than Port Augusta. Obviously they had the local coal deposit in mind. The value of copper mined in the Northern Flinders Ranges during that year amounted to $11.100. Copper certainly remained the mainstay of the mineral prospects in the north.

As late as 1911 English capital was again raised to mine South Australian copper. This was about fifty years after the first English company had started mining copper in the Northern Flinders Ranges. The new company was the Union Consolidated Copper Mines Ltd., of London. It proposed to buy out the Union Consolidated Copper Mines N.L. and the Lyndhurst South Australia Copper Company Ltd. with a capital of $300,000. These two companies owned seventeen claims on Crown leases at Umberatana over an area of 830 acres.

A completely new prospect was discovered in 1910 at Mount Painter. This time it was not copper, gold or silver, but uranium. This mine and some of the other older ones like the Nuccaleena, Yudanamutana, Blinman, Paull's Consolidated and Nichol's Nob were all working. No doubt the high prices for minerals during World War I contributed greatly to this renewed activity. What is interesting to note though, is that the value of minerals mined had increased over the years as had their importance to the South Australian economy.

Individual miners did not share in this prosperity however. Whereas in 1849 miners were paid at a rate of 60 to 70 cents per day, this had declined to 50 cents per day in 1884. Very few people earned less than that. By 1914 a miner's wage was only 80 cents per day, almost at the bottom of the wage scale. Soon after the cessation of the war the world price for standard copper dropped from an average of $231 per ton to $67, making it rather unprofitable for most of these miners to carry on. Nevertheless during 1919 there were a few mines working including the Blinman, Nuccaleena, Barilla and the Yudanamutana.

One of the last companies started in the Northern Flinders Ranges during this period was the Great Northern Eclipse Proprietary Gold and Silver Mine, previously known as the British Empire Mine, which held a claim near Paralana. After that, all was quiet again in the Northern Flinders Ranges, and the rest of South Australia. The situation was nicely summed up by H. Basedow who wrote 'South Australia finds herself in a peculiar position of possessing a Mines Department and a Minister of Mines without a decent mine'. The 'Great Age of Mining' had truly passed, in the Northern Flinders Ranges and in South Australia with copper mining at its lowest level since the gold discoveries of 1851.

Even as late as the 1920s many of the miners and their families still faced the same hardships as the early Aboriginal ochre miners had done on their way to Parachilna. Very little seemed to have changed in that regard. They were still subjected to cold, extreme heat, lack of water, occasional floods and droughts and a shortage of food. Very few of the glowing and over-confident statements made, sixty years before, had come through, least of all that the Northern Flinders Ranges would support a population of 25,000 people. Maybe the next sixty years would see the fulfilment of these dreams.

Today deposits of magnesite near Leigh Creek and zinc deposits at Beltana, Reliance and Aroona are being worked and are among some of the highest grade ore bodies in the world.

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